Case Studies, Student Voice

What pedagogies support students to become better researchers?

This is a guest blog from Tadeas Dvorak, one of our Student Digital Champions.

Higher education needs to go beyond designing research-informed degrees. By building communities of practice within the student body, universities can help students to experience and build a research skillset that will make them future-ready.

We live in an uncertain world, which some describe as volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. [1] Research is an important skillset that helps to navigate this complexity. It consists of the capacity to identify, analyse, to adapt and solve problems. Interdisciplinarity is an important part of this. I believe research allows us to grasp the reality and make the future we choose. That is why universities should strive for supporting students to become better researchers. The question is how to foster this?

The intuitive way of doing so is designing curricula and courses where research is embedded. Syllabus where students are guided by lecturers, where they digest research, and then run it themselves, finishing off with a dissertation. This the classical method and the University of Bristol is great at delivering research-informed teaching. This approach is endorsed by bodies such as the AdvanceHE (previously HEA).[2] However, there is more to this. AdvanceHE recommends organising student research conferences, creating a student-led journal and supporting ‘co-curricular research activities’ – and this where most universities are failing.

I believe that we should look at higher education more as a platform for communities of practice (CoP). CoP is defined as a learning partnership between learners themselves.[3] In other words, this is a participatory approach to embedding research into curricula, where students practice research together. This need not be about discarding the role of a lecturer. It is more about lecturers becoming facilitators that give students the agency to carry out research, to immerse in experiential learning situations.

CoP can take many forms, this includes said student-led research conferences and journals. The benefit lies in the extended peer community, whilst performing a participatory
peer review. Further, research is simply a way of learning that increases passion for the subject studied as illustrated in the quote:

“I prefer research projects where I set the question, because it allows me to focus my research as a historian more closely. My department has always encouraged me to follow my interests for research projects and essays, which has meant that then I have an increased passion for the subjects I’m writing about. “

[Rosa, 3rd Year Student, British Conference for Undergraduate Research Attendee][4]

We can also think CoP as small bubbles of students that discuss research together. Initiatives such as the Pint of Science are well-established and could be adopted by universities to popularise research among the student body. Student-led hackathons are great facilitators of research and interdisciplinary collaboration. Universities can further provide financial support and award the most innovative undergraduate research.

These are some specific pedagogies that can make students engaged in research and support them to become better researchers. Approaching education as a community of practice, where students can enrich one another, is the principle that can prepare students to navigate in the complex world of today.

[1] LeBlanc, P. J. (2018). Higher education in a VUCA world. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning50(3-4), 23-26.

[2] Walkington, H. (2016) Pedagogic approaches to developing students as researchers within the curriculum and beyond. Higher Education Academy.

[3] Haneda, M. (2006). Classrooms as communities of practice: A reevaluation. Tesol Quarterly40(4), 807-817.

[4] Kinder, E. (2020). Student as researchers – BCUR edition. Accessed 20th Oct 2020.

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